A San Francisco jury convicted a Honduran immigrant Friday of felony charges of dealing crack in the Tenderloin, rejecting his defense that human traffickers had threatened to kill him if he didn't sell drugs.
Rigoberto Valle, 23, has been in custody since his arrest June 4 at Golden Gate Avenue and Larkin Street for selling two rocks of crack cocaine to undercover officers.
Valle will be sentenced Oct. 19. He is expected to receive credit for time served and be placed on three years' probation. He would then be subject to deportation, however, because he is under a federal hold on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.
Valle testified that traffickers known as coyotes who brought him to San Francisco had demanded $500 for his passage from Phoenix and ordered him - at the point of a gun and then a knife - to earn it by dealing crack. The sum was on top of the $1,500 his family had paid the smugglers to get across the border, Valle said.
The jury in San Francisco Superior Court deliberated nearly eight hours starting Thursday before convicting Valle.
Outside court, jurors said they sympathized with Valle, who testified that he had traveled a month by foot, bus and boxcar to reach the United States. But they also said they weren't sure they believed that human traffickers had forced him to deal drugs.
"I wanted to find him not guilty," said one juror, who did not want to be named. "We all had enormous sympathy for his situation, but that was not what we were there to decide on.
"To me, it came down to that he knew what he was doing was illegal," the juror said. "I don't think he honestly cared."
Jury foreman Daniel Ludwinski said he also sympathized with Valle and believed he had been a victim of human trafficking. But, he said, "It all came down to whether we could trust the defendant."
He said he thought Valle could have avoided dealing crack by leaving or seeking help.
Valle's attorney, Hadi Razzaq, brought in an expert from Oregon who testified that the alleged threats against Valle turned his situation from one of simple illegal immigration to human trafficking.
Razzaq asked that the jury "protect Mr. Valle - he's a victim."
"I'm extremely disappointed," Razzaq said after the verdict. "It's unfortunate that somebody who's been a victim of what I think pretty clearly is human trafficking is being prosecuted and now convicted."
Assistant District Attorney Richard Hechler told the jury that the case was about a sale of two rocks of crack, nothing more. He said Valle had contributed to his plight by agreeing to come to San Francisco.
"He could have run, he should have run and he didn't run," Hechler said in his closing argument. "He may or may not have been trafficked. That's not the issue. The issue is, did he commit a crime?"
Hechler declined to comment after the verdict, but spokesman Brian Buckelew of the district attorney's office said, "From day one we said this wasn't a human trafficking case. It was another crack sale in the Tenderloin. The jury agreed."
For years now, illegal alien drug dealers have been gaming the system - often claiming to be minors to avoid punishment and deportation. The City has been all too willing to look the other way, as evidenced by the Sifferman scandal and the myriad of stories highlighting SF's blaze attitude towards illegal alien crime and criminals.
It's certainly refreshing to find one sane voice in San Francisco's morally bankrupt D.A.'s office. Though you have to wonder if time served and probation is the norm, and, if so, what does that say about our justice system?